PHILADELPHIA -- If you were hoping the whole Donovan McNabb trade was simply a bad dream, I have some sobering news. On Tuesday, I witnessed for the first time in person Kevin Kolb breaking the huddle as the full-time starter for the Eagles. And though we've spent hours discussing the implications of one of the most stunning trades in the past 20 years, it's still a little jolting when you see it in action.
Even during a relatively unimportant organized team activities session (just ask DeSean Jackson), you immediately sense the groundbreaking change that has occurred. Two pillars of the organization's success last decade, McNabb and Brian Westbrook, are gone and we're left to figure out where the Eagles are headed. Since he was taken in the second round of the draft in 2007, Kolb has been a quiet reminder that McNabb might someday have a successor. But with his easy-going demeanor and Texas drawl, it's not like Kolb was going around making demands.
When the Eagles made another stunning move in August to sign Michael Vick, Kolb was thrust even further into the background. We were interested in potential protests outside the Linc and how McNabb would handle having the most famous backup in the league. Kolb told me Tuesday that he often wondered if he'd ever get a shot to start with the Eagles.
That was before Andy Reid dropped the bomb at the March owners' meeting in Orlando that he was all ears on offers for McNabb. Certainly a sizable faction of Eagles fans had always dreamed of that day, but even the most ardent McNabb bashers were probably caught off guard by the brazen way the Eagles ended what was, for the most part, a happy marriage. What we probably missed in the whole buildup to the trade was how much trust Reid had developed in the former Stephenville (Texas) High and Houston star, Kolb. That's one reason he didn't seem fazed by the phone call during which Reid informed him that he was the starter.
"It wasn't really surreal for me," Kolb told me Tuesday after a practice session. "It's something I'd prepared for my whole life, so it didn't catch me by surprise."
Kolb almost seems amused that everyone's so curious to find out what's changed in his life. He's had to ask his dad to back off on a growing number of interview requests, joking, "We're giving away the family secrets." But for the most part, he's trying to keep things as normal as possible. In his past couple of seasons with the Eagles, McNabb's weekly news conferences became events. He cut off most media access -- unless you counted sporadic blog entries. So far with Kolb, the Eagles' P.R. staff is treating him like any other player. He'll be at his locker on a daily basis if anyone needs him, which is a completely different approach than, say, the Cowboys take with Tony Romo.
Not that Kolb's naive to the fact that he's playing in a market where every aspect of his game will be analyzed. Recently, the Philadelphia Inquirer observed Kolb's demeanor in practice and produced a story comparing his body language to McNabb's. I don't think Kolb can do anything to truly prepare himself for the scrutiny he's about to face, but he's taking steps in that direction. He has reached out to quarterbacks Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers to set up conversations over the next few weeks.
"With Brees, I want to know about the structure of his week and his overall preparation," said Kolb. "In my first two starts, I wanted to be totally prepared, but I also didn't want to overdo it."
It's pretty obvious what Kolb wants to discuss with Rodgers, the quarterback who replaced the iconic Brett Favre in Green Bay. He's a bit concerned, though, that Rodgers might not be that forthcoming because the Eagles open the regular season with the Packers in September. With Brees, Kolb sees a kindred spirit who also played high school football in Texas. Brees is one of the most accurate passers in the league, and the Eagles believe that's Kolb's best trait.
"I think Drew was in the limelight probably more than he wanted to be," Kolb said. "I want to talk to him about how he stays so focused while balancing so many other responsibilities."
It's interesting to me that one of the criticisms of Ben Roethlisberger has been his unwillingness to listen to advice from former Steelers such as Terry Bradshaw. It seems that Kolb's reaching out to those who have played the position in Philly. He knows Ron Jaworski, and he's called him for advice since being named the starter.
But at the end of the day, Kolb seems to understand that the most important thing is to stick with what got him here. For instance, he knows that Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg prefers that his quarterbacks don't show much emotion. And while he respects that, it hasn't kept him from showing disgust when something goes wrong in practice.
"I just want guys to mentally respond to me when we're in battles," said Kolb. "[Mornhinweg's] big deal is that when things are going wrong during a game, he doesn't want everyone to see you getting frustrated. I don't do that. But when you make a bad play, I think it's OK for the guys to see that I'm upset about it."
Here's Reid's take: "He forgets the last play but he's going to beat himself up over [mistakes]. That's OK, that'll make him good. He's got drive. He is put in a position with great expectations. As long as your expectations are greater than those around you, that's a good thing. He puts pressure on himself and there's nothing wrong with that. You need to be able to do that at that position."
Some folks in the organization scoff at the idea that the Eagles are involved in some sort of rebuilding process, but Kolb almost seems to embrace that line of thinking.
"We're suddenly the underdog," he said. "And who doesn't like being the underdog? With the talent we have, there are so many possibilities. But if folks want to believe otherwise, that's fine."
Knowing that Eagles fans might be a bit concerned that Kolb grew up in Cowboys country, I asked him whether he'd worked up any "hatred" toward Dallas.
"Oh yeah, definitely," he said. "I liked them a little bit growing up, but my first love of an NFL team was the Eagles. I was so involved with my Dad's teams growing up that I was up at the fieldhouse on Sundays, and didn't have a chance to watch a lot of games. So I promise you I bleed green at this point. There should be no concern about my past."
Soothing words to all Eagles fans, I'm sure.